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  • Dec 10, 2018

Building resilience for the most vulnerable

Miranda Weinstein 

The link between climate change and human rights is undeniable. A changing climate has impacts that erode people’s right to life, health, food, and a decent standard of living. Climate change poses the greatest threat to poor people and other groups on the margins of society. 

For example, poor people are disproportionately vulnerable to climate-related natural disasters. The sectors in which they traditionally work—including farming and agriculture—are more susceptible to extreme weather events, and they are more likely to live in fragile housing. 

When disasters strike, they have fewer resources to rebuild and fewer opportunities to restart their lives. With every natural disaster, the cycle of poverty and inequality gets worse. The poor get poorer and their grip on jobs and property becomes more tenuous.

In 2013, when Category 5 Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippians, it caused destruction and deprived the population of over 260,000 tons of rice. In the wake of a drought in Ecuador, poverty increased by 2 percent. According to the World Bank, extreme weather events are responsible for $520 billion in damages worldwide and push 26 million people into poverty every year.

But the economic fallout, joblessness, displacement, and other consequences of natural disasters are more than statistics. Behind every datapoint is a person with a story of unimaginable suffering and loss.  

The frequency and destructive force of hurricanes and typhoons are on the rise. An analysis from insurance group Munich Re found that in 2017 there were six times more hydrological events than in 1980. Category 5 hurricanes, considered the most destructive, are becoming more common with every passing year.

So, what do we do about it? The answer is clear. We need to build resilience among those who lack the resources to withstand the impacts of climate change. For example, through its Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) is supporting Mozambique’s efforts to use climate-smart approaches that will better withstand floods and other disasters. As part of this initiative, nearly 300 kilometers of roads and other vital infrastructure will be fitted with climate-resilient upgrades to spur economic growth and more firmly put 6.1 million rural Mozambicans on a resilient development path.

Resilience is also about capacity building. For instance, CIF and the World Bank have partnered to bolster Jamaica’s weather and water monitoring systems to ensure decision-makers can better plan for disasters and access accurate information in times of crisis. Their combined investment is supporting the installation of 35 weather stations across the country, comprising the Caribbean’s first real-time weather reporting system. Knowing exactly when, where, and how weather patterns are changing is important. It protects lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure.  

Today we celebrate International Human Rights Day. We should act as though every day is International Human Rights Day—especially when it comes to climate change.